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Building on a great tradition

Kate Thompson

A shortage of heritage skills required to safeguard the very fabric of historic buildings was the starting point for a creative solution that has been developed with help of Southsea-based Conservation Architect, Deniz Beck.

Her passion for old military structures made her very aware of the issues facing these fascinating structures and by creating a community workforce armed with craft skills, she hopes they will be saved for generations to come to enjoy.

“In Portsmouth we are lucky to have so many amazing military buildings but the conservation costs can often put them at risk. Preserving these local historic buildings often involves dealing with massive structures. Fort Widley alone is built with nearly a billion bricks. Conservation and/or restoration of such vast and complex buildings, which often require traditional crafts skills, is costly,” she explained.

A recent pilot course organised and delivered by Sustainable Conservation ( for local charity staff, volunteers, and conservation architecture students from the University of Portsmouth reconnected local communities with traditional craft skills and allowed them to learn about hands-on heritage asset maintenance.

It proved so successful, that another two-day course is planned in September and local people with an interest in old buildings and building companies who want to learn more about heritage skills are being encouraged to get involved.

The course in brickwork masonry and repair starts with the basics: lime mortar maintenance, which is an ancient, sustainable, and cost-effective traditional building method.

Sadly it has been largely forgotten in modern times, despite some of the world’s oldest and most iconic structures dating back to around 6,500 BC in the Indus valley region (present day Pakistan) and the pyramids in Egypt built around 2500 BC, being known to have the first traces of lime mortar.

“The challenges faced in sustaining heritage buildings are not unique to Portsmouth, and are faced by many other heritage sites across the UK and beyond. However, the training and the willingness of volunteers to be involved in sustaining their local cultural and historical heritage by learning intangible skills could prove to be the perfect solution.”

“The ultimate goal of the Widley Learning Centre project is to build a local community of skilled heritage maintenance task force through learning and training to undertake repairs of their local buildings like Fort Widley. Such skill acquisition has also the potential to improve well-being for the entire community and offer job and career opportunities.” said Deniz, who has led her own architectural design practice since 2012 and is a part-time lecturer at the University of Portsmouth School of Architecture.

SCT lime mortar course

“Engaging local communities in heritage building crafts works on so many levels. It aids: decarbonization of the environment by using natural materials, reducing waste, empowerment of women in taking up skills traditionally regarded as a male domain and improving access to training in crafts skills to cultural minority groups.”, she added.

The next two-day course will run on September 22nd-23rd and will focus on lime mortar repairs.

To find out more about getting involved email

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